November 5, 2016

How To Study (Understanding Disease)


When it comes to disease, you must separate the condition into sections in order to understand the components in their entirety. Often, I would read about a condition but miss key concepts, such as treatments or expected outcomes. Definitions mean nothing if you have no idea how diseases manifest themselves. Diseases aren't one-dimensional and simple, they are puzzles within mazes. When you are a nursing professional, you are presented with a tremendous amount of information. It is up to you to decipher what is relevant.

The first step in understanding a disease process is the pathophysiology . To figure out why certain signs and symptoms are presenting themselves, you must understand the cellular transformations. For example, if you don't know the structural changes that occur within a patient diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, you will not grasp why coughing and mucus production are to be expected. Nursing is more than sheer memorization and revolves around understanding science.

The next section towards understanding a disease is evaluating clinical signs and symptoms . Once you understand a disease process on a cellular level, the clinical picture will be easier to imagine. For example, if your patient has increased mucus production in the alveoli, abnormalities in respiratory function are expected. This section will be easier to figure out because you took the first step. After you get the visual presentation, you can move onto the diagnostic and laboratory section. This section will allow you to see what tests or procedures are related to the disease process. Diagnoses require more than an examination. Diagnoses require data and confirmation. Now we are cooking - the clinical portfolio is almost complete. Let’s get to the meat and potatoes - nursing interventions . Nursing interventions are what nursing programs are testing students on, but comprehension can't occur without the previous steps. Nursing interventions include actions such as elevating the head of the bed or providing oxygen. Nursing interventions don’t’ necessarily include medications. That step comes next.

Medications and treatment plans are the next sections. Once you have the body system manifestations, you have the clinical picture. Once you have the knowledge regarding the diagnosis confirmation, you can now fully appreciate why certain treatments are ordered and why certain medications will improve your patient’s condition. These are the sections some students have trouble with. The difficulty stems from the lack of understanding pathophysiology. You can’t jump to medications if you don’t understand why the medication was ordered originally. Medications usually alter cellular composition and/or proliferation. As nurses, we give medications and other therapies. It is within our scope of practice and our duty to figure out why this drug is being given and what the expected outcomes are.

That brings us to the last section - the expected outcomes . Once the medication is given, there are expected outcomes. Will the blood pressure decrease? Will the heart rate lower in response? You must know the expected outcomes in order to properly evaluate the therapy. That, my friend, is the circle of nursing. Identification, assessment, intervention, and evaluation. Education is no different. To review, in order to understand a disease process, you must address the following areas:

1.    Pathophysiology
2.    Signs & Symptoms
3.    Diagnostics & Labs
4.    Nursing Interventions
5.    Medications & Treatments
6.    Expected Outcomes

There are some people out there who look down on nurses. They assume that all we do is what we’re told and we don’t have critical thinking skills. This learning process is what differentiates us from robots. We understand disease processes and provide care to patients. This nursing care is with the full understanding that what we are doing is safe, appropriate, and will not cause harm. This is why this educational approach is important. You understand and appreciate the tasks are you are performing. You can walk into your patient’s room with the full understanding that you are providing safe care and that you are doing what is in a person's best interest. Yes, I know nursing school is stressful, but every nursing student must take the time to understand disease processes in their entirety, because when you don’t, bad things can happen. When you don’t know the "why," you can’t grasp the what. I created a form using this strategy. It's FREE on Facebook (here), or you can purchase the form for $1.00 at my Etsy store (here).